Donegal and Mayo standing on the shoulders of giants

Over 200km and a chasm in competitiveness separated Mayo’s defeat of Mayo and Donegal’s destruction of Armagh last Sunday afternoon but in the performances of Aidan O’Shea and Michael Murphy, there was at least one common thread.

Donegal and Mayo standing on the shoulders of giants

Both big men earned man-of-the-match votes for performances that went a considerable way to backing up the old maxim that a good big ‘un is always better than a good little ‘un.

It’s true the two giants performed very different duties at the weekend, but that only served to highlight their versatility.

O’Shea has made his name in the main as a midfielder, but he operated up front for Mayo in Pearse Stadium and caused havoc for Finian Hanley and the Galway defence in general by earning a clutch of easily converted frees for Cillian O’Connor and much more besides.

Murphy, nominally a forward and wearing 14, earned his crust around the midfield and added five astonishing pointed frees to a catalogue of work that called for some heavy lifting and more than a touch of panache in the regular service of Paddy McBrearty up front.

Look up Murphy’s Wikipedia page and it will tell you matter-of-factly that he is widely regarded as the best Gaelic footballer playing the game today and his teammate Mark McHugh had no truck with that as he pondered Murphy’s contribution at the Athletic Grounds.

“Yeah, he probably is,” said the Kilcar player. “There is probably no question about that. His place kicking is absolutely phenomenal. That one just before half-time, I was looking up at it on the screen. It was a monster kick, but all of that is down to his work.

“His work off the field is unbelievable. When he is not training, he is off kicking balls every night over in the field in Glenswilly and in MacCumhaill Park. That is the character of the lad. He is a brilliant performer and he really stood up.” That said, Murphy will have benefited from the fact that Armagh let him go about his business without any repeat of the shadow tactics Tyrone employed in the preliminary round in Ballybofey when Justin McMahon sought to crawl under his skin.

It is unlikely that Derry will give him such free reign when the counties meet in the Ulster semi-final a fortnight from now, but then Murphy should be big enough and experienced enough to take any special attention in his considerable stride.

“He takes that on the chin, like every other player,” said McHugh. “You don’t know who is going to be targeted the way football has evolved. He came under a bit of grief against Tyrone and he handled it.

“You could see it in the Sunday Game that night, but it told you everything about the player that he is. He did not hit back or do anything like that because he is not like that. He just concentrates on his football and it is a total credit to him.” O’Shea could probably nod his head at that.

Four of the five frees Cillian O’Connor stuck over in the first-half came from fouls on O’Shea and Mayo’s dead ball man believes his teammate’s reaction to such attention, or lack of reaction, is just one reason the big Breaffy man is still climbing towards his peak as a player.

“I think he is getting close to it anyway,” O’Connor said. “He is better again than he was last year. He is such a handful, even physically running with the ball, but his decision-making is getting better. His handling is getting better and his composure and his shooting is improving.

“So, I don’t know if he is at his peak.

“He is a great asset to have. He was brilliant (against Galway) and he dealt with the treatment he was getting. He is well used to that at this stage. When he was younger he might have got frustrated at the fouls and lash out or whatever, but the fouls were punished and he was excellent.”

Standout though Murphy’s and O’Shea’s performances were at the weekend, the utilisation of the two Ireland internationals in roles that were unusual - though far from unknown - to them begs the question as to where they might benefit their respective counties the most this summer and beyond.

Will Donegal be able to prosper with just McBrearty up front again and Murphy so far from goal? And, will Mayo ultimately be robbing Peter to pay Paul by relieving O’Shea from duties in the middle and stationing him closer to goal where, as we all know, there is such a dependency on O’Connor?

“It’s a good problem to have because he can influence the game from so many different areas,” said O’Connor of O’Shea. “He gives us a different option if we want to play him around the middle or inside. As long as we know and decide early and there’s clear communication, I don’t think it’s an issue.”

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